Monday, July 10, 2006

As for America...

Remember the Greenday song, American Idiot? "Don' wanna be an American idiot!/One nation controlled by the media" It is showing up all over. The complacency of America, the way the cash keeps rolling in when Americans don't work for it. The laxity of the education system from the bottom to the top. High school teach so little their diplomas aren't recognized internationally, colleges inflate averages so everbody can walk around sporting 4.0 GPAs. It worked for a long time; the money being made from investments and the internet revolution kept the USA on top of the world without recourse to a stitch of work. But that is changing now thanks to competition form India and China, the European Union and the up-and-coming African Union. It is time to reawaken the sleeping giant. The USA must violently shake itself into action, create goals and ideologies. There is no more WWI, WWII, Cold War. These forces created the push that gave the country no option but to advance. There are also new socio-economic factors at play. A respect for the educated that we once had is gone, along with economic incentives in medicine. Why work hard, when money comes easy? This is the mindset of Idiot America. The good life, midboggling degree of material comforts, take it easy, it's good to be lazy and dumb. Have fun.

Increasing international competition will make this mindset obsolete. It is time to consider our comparartive advantages as a nation and work to contribute to the global economy in areas where we can produce good and services better, faster, cheaper, than others. A SWOT analysis is in order. USA's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats need to be considered and apporpriate action taken. Advertising and propaganda is needed to change the mindset; galvanize the population to value a work-ethic and restore the falling glory of the nation.

The language threat: If the sciences advance internationally to the point of critical mass (Gladwell's Tipping Point), the language of world science will, change, making it harder for American students to joint the world academic community. This is catastrophic because Americans are the only ones in the world who are, as a rule, monolingual. The widespread use of English today not only reflects America's current scientific superiority

The spirit of competition was lost after the Cold War and Americans, who think of their win as some eternal victory that will leave them champions forever. But the title of Superpower is like a boxing title or the Stanley Cup. The winner must repeatedly fend off challengers to retain the award.

Going on a bit of a tangent, here is a great idea. The US has become too soft, focusing on small things that would not be issues at all if there were any larger issues on the table. As Richard Farson explained in his respected writings on management, the response to improvement of a situation is complaints. But the important thing is the quality, not quantity, of the complaints. As in Maslow's Hierarchy Theory of Human Needs, when a lower level need is fulfilled, fulfillment of the next higher level need is sought. Thus complaints arise, but of a different nature than previously. i.e. an employee who complained of low salary, may, after a raise, complain that he needs more vacation time or a private office. This granted, she will demand a promotion. Next, greater influence in the decisions of the company. Note though, that the new sanitary hire at Microsoft Inc. will not complain that he is not VP, will not demand a window suite, and will not ask to influence the direction of research funds or the features included in the new product.

Back to America, citizens used to work hard to fulfill basic needs like sustenance, human rights, national security. When these were more easily acheived in a more prosperous nation, people moved to squabbling over increasingly petty things. Abortion issues, gay-rights issues, feminism, sexual harrassment, tobacco lawsuits, child hyperprotection (in the form of strict policies controlling teacher-student relations i.e. hitting, touching), tax reform, welfare reform, whatnot. These are all issues that should be dealt with. Many are the fabric of our society and what makes us unique as a nation. I don't say they are unimportant. But I point out that they would be total non-issues if we had some higher level concern. When Americans were working hard to feed their families, we did not have tobacco lawsuits. When people appreciated being able to afford quality medical car, we did not have rampant medical malpractice suits. That is not to say higher level concerns should not be addressed. After all, this is the very goal of progress and maturity. Nevertheless, perspective is imperative. If we keep in mind that these needs are indeed high-level, and that they can never be allowed to detract from maintenance of our basic needs, we can acheive a balance. But if we lose sight of the basics and chase perfection, we will ultimately collapse like an upside down pyramid. (Maslow's hierarchy is indeed often drawn as a pyramid, right side up. If we weight the top too much, though, it will tumble.)

Okay, long post. I finally had something to say after a while of being quiet.

Nun.Bet. (Hebrew. Americans use P.S.) I like some of the ideas of Students for Academic Freedom, and the concept of an Academic Bill of Rights. It is unfortunate to have to come to this, and legislation is not an ideal solution, but this is the age we live in. An age of dead ideas and writing-things-that-will-sit-in-a-box. But repeated violations by educators require something to be done. It is silly to think we can legislate a good education, and the guideline will prove killer-hard to draft positively, but some ground rules are presumably in order. It's a pandora's box. But so is inaction.

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